Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Another Hate Sign Explodes, One Dead

A retired colonel in Kaliningrad was killed Wednesday when he tried to take down an offensive sign and it exploded in his face. It was the latest in a string of booby-trapped signs popping up around the country and the first to cause a death.

Yury Antipenko, 50, was walking his dog in the town of Baltiisk on Wednesday morning when he noticed the plywood sign mounted near his apartment building and tried to remove it, the local police said. He died on the spot.

His neighbor Elina Guseva, 31, suffered a bad leg injury from being hit by fragments and underwent surgery in a local hospital.

The explosive, made from a hand grenade, held the equivalent of 100 grams of TNT, NTV television reported.

Unlike the previous booby-trapped road signs, which carried anti-Semitic messages, the Baltiisk sign was addressed to a specific person.

"It said 'Koval' and then there were some obscene words," Maxim Makarov, a spokesman for the Kaliningrad regional police, said by telephone.

He said the text was believed to refer to Sergei Kovalenko, 24, who lives in the same building as the victims and has two past criminal convictions.

On the remaining fragment of the sign, which was shown in television footage, could be seen "Koval," clearly as the first part of a longer word, and "lokh," which means sucker and is a big put-down in criminal jargon.

"This was no terrorist act," Nikolai Dashkin, a prosecutor in Baltiisk, said on RTR television. "It was most likely criminal infighting. It was aimed at a concrete person, but a different person happened to be there."

Makarov said Wednesday's sign could not be linked to the others because it was not motivated by anti-Semitism or terrorism.

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, however, said the crime had an "extremist character" and that to prevent such crimes police should work harder to obtain intelligence about such attacks while they are still in the planning stage, Interfax reported.

A federal law on fighting terrorism is being drawn up, but the police should not wait until it is passed to be more aggressive in fulfilling their duties, Gryzlov said.

The deadly explosion in Baltiisk came as the Federation Council was considering whether to approve a controversial Kremlin-backed bill on extremism, which was pushed through the State Duma by pro-Kremlin factions last month.

Nationalities Minister Vladimir Zorin called on the Federation Council on Wednesday to vote for the bill, saying it had new importance after the string of explosives-wired signs with extremist slogans, Interfax said.

The upper house voted 140-4 in favor of the bill, which has been criticized by civic activists who say its vague provisions give the state too much power to go after opposition groups.

The first booby-trapped road sign, on Kievskoye Shosse just outside Moscow, exploded May 27, just days before the presidential administration submitted its version of an anti-extremism law to the Duma. The sign said "Death to Jews" and was attributed to skinheads. A woman who tried to remove the sign suffered burns and eye injuries.

Another anti-Semitic sign exploded in Tomsk on Monday when two passers-by tried to remove it from the side of a highway. The two men were injured but did not require hospitalization.

On several other occasions since the first sign exploded, suspicious anti-Semitic signs have been reported to the police.

The signs have appeared to be wired to explosives, but the bombs have all turned out to be dummies. Three such posters appeared in Voronezh on June 5, another on the Moscow's Outer Ring Road on June 12, and a sign in Vladivostok on July 4.

"The pattern of all the attacks is similar, but it is hard to say if they were coordinated," Alexander Alexeyev, a spokesman for the Moscow regional police, said by telephone Wednesday.

He said the news coverage of the exploding signs inspired copycat attacks. "I don't think there is a single group behind all the incidents," he said. "No, it is scattered idiots who rush to plant bombs after it is shown on television."

Oleg Nechiporenko, who heads the National Anti-Crime and Anti-Terrorist Foundation, said these attacks, no matter who is behind them, play into the hands of real terrorists by sowing seeds of fear in society.

"Moreover, some groups and organizations may develop and use this situation of uncertainty to channel the ire of the authorities against their political rivals," he said without elaborating.

Nechiporenko also blamed the media. "After Sept. 11, air time has been oversaturated with information about terrorism and it provokes psychologically unstable individuals," he said. "I assume that most incidents are imitations of the first one on Kievskoye Shosse, similar to the controversial plane crashes in Florida and Milan after Sept. 11 that outwardly resembled the attack on New York."

Alexander Gurov, a retired police general who heads the Duma committee on security, said the signs could be part of a concerted effort to influence state policy.

"One and the same method is present," Gurov was quoted by Interfax as saying.

"I don't rule out that there is a plan behind all this that is aimed at forcing the authorities to use some harsh measures."

The Interior Ministry on Wednesday advised people not to handle handmade signs or other suspicious items, especially if there were children or important utilities around.

"We recommend that citizens not touch suspicious items and not tear down posters but call the police instead," said a ministry statement that was read on television Wednesday.